Blaze razes studio
Girl with a slogan & more
Canal resettlement bid sparks pitched battle
Big bash, flat lined up for Sourav
Twin murders over land row
Parking lots to make way for taxi stands
Police fall out over bribery follow-up
Rebels kill 4 in Tripura, torch houses
Manipur panel to prune govt staff

Calcutta, March 14 
Sitting in his office, just before noon on Tuesday, Technicians� Studio (I) administrator Apurba Chatterjee could hear a commotion from the sets some distance away.

Shouts of �fire, fire!� filtered in. Another one of those dramatic scenes being shot, he thought.

But when Pallavi Chatterjee, filmstar Prosenjit�s sister, came rushing into his office in full costume, and shouted: �Dada, why are you still seated... floor number 4 is burning!� he jumped to his feet. �Oh, my God! This is for real.�

By the time the fire was doused, everything except the four huge walls of the building was reduced to ashes. No one, however, was injured.

Technicians� Studio (I), located near the Sangeet Research Academy, Tollygunge, has been used for many a famous shoot over the years, including Satyajit Ray�s Pather Panchali and Ritwick Ghatak�s Meghe Dhaka Tara.

When the fire broke out, Swapan Saha�s Streer Maryada was into its second day of shooting at one of the two studios taken over by the state�s information and culture department in 1983.

It was a village scene, in the courtyard of heroine Rituparna�s home.

She and Prosenjit were yet to come on to the floor and were busy putting finishing touches to their makeup in the adjacent greenroom.

Pallavi, who plays Rituparna�s sister in the film, Roma Guha (their mother) and Anju Ghosh (Pallavi�s friend) were going through their takes.

Shankar Guha was behind the camera, while Saha directed.

Suddenly, flames leaped from the thatched roof of the hut. Crew members began running out, for water or in fright.

The police and the fire brigade were called in.

By the time fire engines from the Naktala station turned up, the hay, wooden structures and other props used for the village scene went up in flames.

Sections of the asbestos roof of the godown-turned shooting floor collapsed.

�We feared the fire would spread to other buildings,� administrator Chatterjee said. �But the firemen did a good job. Even then, losses are likely to be around Rs 15 lakh.�

The cause of the accident will only be known after the firemen complete their investigations.

The film�s writer, Subhas Banerjee, however, said: �The fire could have started with the butterpaper placed in front of the arc lamps being ignited by the heat of the lamp. The light and butterpaper were next to the roof of the thatched hut. Once the hay caught fire, it spread within minutes.�

The whole building housing floor number 4 is now in a precarious condition.

The remaining portions of the roof or even the walls can collapse any moment.

�Shooting will not be possible here for quite some time,� Chatterjee said. �All dates and bookings will have to be cancelled.�

Besides films, mega TV serials like Janani and Ramakrishna have also been shot here.

�This is the first time in the studio�s 65-year history that such an incident has happened,� said manager Barin Bose.

Sources said the fire and information and culture departments had conducted a detailed fire survey 14 years after the state took over the �sick� studio.

A Rs 60-lakh fire project was submitted in 1997. Among other things, the construction of a reservoir was suggested.

Work to make the studio �safe� had already started. But Technicians Studio (I) was in definitely not equipped to deal with a fire of such magnitude.    

Calcutta, March 14 
On her way to school one morning, Poonam Agarwal saw a hoarding put up by the city police. It said: �Don�t play with the car, it may take you too far.�

The slogan was written by the 15-year-old who lost her father in a road accident when she was of a tender age.

The Calcutta Police had adopted it to caution motorists against rash driving, picking it out as the best in a contest.

�Our first reaction was that the slogan must have been coined by a professional copywriter because it expressed admonition, humour, concern in a measured way. Then we detected the freshness and the emotions and knew it would be hugely appealing to motorists,� said V.V. Thambi, joint commissioner of police, traffic department.

Poonam�s prize-winning slogan earned her a certificate and Rs 500.

But the Class IX student of Mahadevi Birla Girls� Higher Secondary School is happier to know that it is actually being used in hoardings.

Poonam�s slogan was chosen from a large number of entries after the police involved schools to raise awareness among students and participate in a campaign against reckless driving.

�Calcuttans actually took the trouble of writing or phoning in to say that they liked our campaign because of the neat slogan,� Thambi said.

The hoardings with Poonam�s slogan are strung out on Park Street, Central Avenue and EM Bypass.

Poonam said she did not take long to compose the lines as they came from the core of her heart.

She recalled how numbed she was with shock when she learnt her father had died in tragic circumstances. But that is all she would say of the incident.

�I was trying to put a message across to thousands of parents out there through the slogan, appealing to them to drive carefully, at least for the sake of their innocent children. None deserves to suffer as much a loss as I did. I am lucky that my bara papa (paternal uncle) takes care of me as his own child and I have no complaint, but others may not be as lucky,� she says.

School principal M. Goyal said Poonam, one of a dozen contestants from the institution, had penned another eye-catching slogan �Vehicles are to be driven, Not to take you to heaven�, which is also expected to be used by the police in its campaigns.

�One day, our teacher told all of us in our class to write a slogan against rash driving,� recalled Poonam. �Later we came to know that the slogans written by us will be sent for a competition. A few days later, I was told that I have stood first. Even when I attended the prize distribution ceremony, I was not told that my slogan was going to be used for display in the hoardings,� said Poonam.

�I was really thrilled when I found the slogan written by me on the hoardings,� she continued. �In fact, I was more happy to see the hoarding than to get the prize,� said Poonam.

Thambi said apart from the two slogans written by Poonam, the police will use another in Bengali, also written by a school student.

The police had organised the competition as part of a one-and-a-half month campaign to promote safe driving. The next such programme will be held in early 2001.    

Calcutta, March 14 
Residents of Niranjan Sen Nagar in Baranagar, on the northern fringes of the city, fought a pitched battle with the police on Tuesday. This followed a move to resettle encroachers evicted from the banks of the Bagjola canal.

Police burst two rounds of teargas shells and resorted to a lathicharge after irate locals hurled bricks at them.

Sixteen people, including a woman and four policemen, were injured in the clash. Tension prevailed throughout the day.

Trouble started early in the morning when residents of ward no. 33 of Baranagar municipality came to know that the North 24-Parganas authorities would shift 71 families from the bustee called Nrisingha Palli, on the banks of the Bagjola, to a playground nearby.

Deciding to resist the move, about 500 locals came forward around 9 am to hold a demonstration, blocking entry to the playground.

The North 24-Parganas superintendent of police Kuldeep Singh said residents suddenly �turned violent� when the police asked them to clear out.

The area turned into a battlefield with locals pelting stones and other missiles at policemen, Singh added.

The police force was hopelessly outnumbered by the angry locals. An SOS was sent to the Baranagar police station for additional reinforcement. After the additional force arrived, the police lathicharged the mob.

The police even alleged that a section of the mob was even preparing to hurl bombs at them. But their plans were thwarted as the cops spotted their move in time. According to Singh, the police recovered two bags containing bottle-bombs after the clash.

The families which were to be resettled fled the scene of the violence and returned only after the situation returned to normal.

As senior district and police officials rushed to the spot, the mob was scattered and the playground taken into police control.

The preliminary construction work for buildings to rehabilitate the Bagjola refugees was started under strict police vigilance.

Bulbul Kundu, a 42-year-old woman, received head injuries during the lathicharge. �We were trying to settle the matter. But, suddenly, the police over-reacted and lathicharged us. I was trying to save myself from the clash. While I was running towards my house, suddenly something hit my head and I fell down,� said Bulbul.

Baranagar town Congress president Anjan Pal said that the administration had removed the families from the canal-banks to undertake a scheme to beautify it. �In 1994, the evicted families were settled by the CPM on the banks of the Bagjola canal and even given �patta�,� he said.

�The administration never consulted the residents of Niranjan Sen Nagar before resettling the evicted families here. Today, we have submitted a memorandum to the district magistrate in protest against this sudden and unannounced resettlement programme,� said Pal.    

Calcutta, March 14 
The state government will felicitate Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly at a grand function at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on April 3.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said on Tuesday that the civic reception, to be organised on the scale of the one held in honour of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, has been approved by the state Cabinet.

The government is expected to announce the allotment of a flat in the upcoming housing complex, already christened Sourav Abasan, in Salt Lake, for the skipper, among other gifts. Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and a host of other stars are expected to be present.

Bhattacharya has already spoken to Sourav and informed him of the government�s decision.

A committee, comprising Subhas Chakraborty, Ashok Bhattacharya and Manab Mukherjee, has been entrusted with the responsibility of organising the big bash.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, who will attend the function, will lay the foundation stone of the Salt Lake housing complex on April 5.    

Calcutta, March 14 
Tension mounted in the Behala-Thakurpukur area after a gang war claimed two more lives on Tuesday.

The bullet-riddled bodies of two youths, murderedover a land dispute, were found lying on roads within a few feet of each other.

The deceased were identified as Chimpu (20), alias Soumya Sengupta, and Langra Jisu (22), alias Indrajit Banerjee.

Chimpu�s body was found on Graham Road, which falls under the jurisdiction of Behala police station, and Langra Jisu�s body was found near an upcoming housing complex on Biren Roy Road (West), in the Thakurpukur area.

Local people panicked when they heard of the murders as four others have already lost their lives in the on-going violence during the last two months.

A resident of Roy Bahadur Road said the murders were the fall-out of Saturday�s happenings.

On that day, a quarrel broke out over the possession of land in the Sholofoot area of Sarsuna, under the jurisdiction of Thakurpukur police station.

A man and a woman were injured when some gangsters fired at them. Both Langra Jisu and Chimpu were involved in the firing.

Ever since, they were being hounded by their rivals.

On Monday night, several shots were heard but no one dared to come out till daybreak.

The two bodies were discovered the next morning lying in pools of blood.

Additional superintendent of police (Industrial) S.N.Gupta said both Chimpu and Langra Jisu were history-sheeters and were wanted in several cases.

Chimpu was arrested thrice and released recently. However, it could not be ascertained how they were murdered and both the bodies were sent for post mortem.

After the incident, local CPM MLA Nirmal Mukherjee visited the area. Local Trinamul Congress leader Sunil Chakroborty said: �Monday�s murders left us horror-struck. This area used to be very peaceful at one time. But it has become hellish due to promoter raj.�

South 24-Parganas district Youth Congress leader Shakti Mondal said 15 days ago, chief minister Jyoti Basu, at a meeting in Sarsuna, expressed deep concern over the deteriorating law and order situation in the Behala-Thakurpukur areas.

But thanks to police inaction, criminal activities have been on the rise. Gang wars will become more frequent if the administration fails to check them now, he said.    

Calcutta, March 14 
Several city parking lots will either be cut down in size or abolished as the civic authorities and the police go about clearing the decks for nearly 75 taxi stands that will crop up all over Calcutta.

It is after a gap of about 25 years that the city will get �official� taxi stands.

At the moment, there are 88 car-parking lots in the city, which can accommodate 2,196 cars.

But no parking lot is reserved for the 25,000 taxis plying in the city.

About 250 taxis will be able to find a place in the 75 stands being planned for them.

�The civic authorities decided to re-introduce taxi stands in the interest of the people. But we have to sacrifice some revenue from car-parking lots to make room for the taxi stands,� said municipal commissioner Asim Barman.

According to member, mayor-in-council, Sudhanshu Sil, once the taxi-stands are set up, it will be possible for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to take steps against a driver who refuses a passenger, as a complaint can then be lodged with the roads department directly.

�Black-listed taxi drivers will be debarred from using these 75 centres,� Sil said, adding that the president of the Bengal Taxi Association, Kalyan Bhadra, has also agreed to the proposal of debarring �errant taxi drivers� from using these stands.

The Russel Street taxi-stand, beside Bengal Club, will be the largest. For the Rs 15-lakh stand, the CMC has decided to join hands with with an NGO, Concern for Calcutta.

It will have modern facilities like telephone booths and the city�s first underground pay-and- use toilet.

While taxis will be available at all the stands around the clock, the vehicles at Russel Street can even be summoned over the phone.

But traffic experts feel that this plan to replace car parks with taxi stands will only add to the chaos on city streets, with motorists going round in circles to try and find a place to park.

�For 25,000 taxis, the authorities are arranging parking facilities for 250 taxis at a time. But for 830,000 cars, there is provision for just 2,196 vehicles to find a place in the parking lots at a given time and even that will be reduced now,� said an expert.    

Calcutta, March 14 
A cold war has broken out between the deputy commissioner of police, traffic, K. Harirajan, and the DC, headquarters, Nazrul Islam, over action to be taken against the sub-inspector caught extracting a bribe of Rs 2,000 on Saturday.

The sub-inspector, H.L. Singh, has been suspended, but Harirajan has written to city police commissioner D.C. Vajpai, seeking an enquiry into the matter by an IPS officer senior to Islam.

�Since the DC (headquarters) is a vital prosecution witness in the case, it would be proper for an officer senior to him to conduct the probe,�� Harirajan told The Telegraph.

Refusing to be drawn into the controversy, Islam said he has asked DC, traffic, to �conduct an enquiry and take necessary action. Harirajan will be in a position to tell you what action has been taken.�

A perturbed Vajpai later summoned all senior officers to his chamber to discuss the issue.

�The traffic section is a breeding ground of corruption. Everybody is in a mad rush to claim his share of the pie,�� said a deputy inspector-general of police, who had once served as DC (traffic).    

Agartala, March 14 
Militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura gunned down four non-tribals, including an octogenarian woman and injured another this morning at remote Ramdula Para village under Pecharthal police station of North Tripura district. The militants also set at least 30 houses on fire.

In separate incidents, four non-tribals have been kidnapped from different parts of the state during the past 24 hours.

This morning�s incident appears to mark the beginning of an offensive by the outlawed NLFT before the autonomous district council (ADC) polls. The four persons were allegedly killed in a calculated attempt to trigger an exodus of non-tribals from within the district council area.

Police sources said at 5.30 am today a large number of heavily armed NLFT militants stormed Ramdula Para village and attacked the two houses nearest to the jungle.

They gunned down Malati Sarkar, 80, and her grandson Partha, 8, who were asleep on the same cot. The NLFT rebels then went to the neighbouring house and shot dead Bidur Debnath, 22, and Biresh Debnath, 28.

Before escaping into the jungles, the militants torched 30 houses, rendering nearly 200 people homeless and damaging property worth at least Rs 35 lakh. The rebels also injured Partha�s mother Basanti Sarkar, 45. She was rushed to Dharmanagar hospital in a critical condition.

Shortly after the incident a large posse of policemen led by superintendent of police (North) Nepal Das reached Ramdula Para village and launched intensive combing operations in the nearby jungles. However, no one has been arrested so far.

Sources said Ramdula Para village, which is dominated by non-tribals, has so far been peaceful. But today�s killings have sparked panic and tension among the villagers.

With today�s incident, altogether 51 persons have been killed in militancy-related violence this year.

In separate incidents, four non-tribals have been abducted from different parts of the state during the past 24 hours.

Police sources said Nimai Tapadar, a 65-year-old peasant, was kidnapped by a group of tribal youth and handed over to militants last morning from Golok Thakur Para area under Jirania police station. Tapadar, who had settled in Agartala after selling off his house for fear of militants, had gone to Golok Thakur Para village to inspect his paddy lands.

In another incident, NLFT militants abducted three small traders, Debendra Namashudra, Ratish Namashudra and Ajit Namashudra from Mendi village under Salema police station of Dhalai district. Sources said the small traders were kidnapped while returning home from Salema market last evening.    

Imphal, March 14 
Manipur finance minister Henam Lokhon Singh today announced constitution of a committee to tackle the financial crisis in the state.

Replying to a call attention motion in the Assembly, Lokhon Singh said the committee would �identify surplus employees and either abolish their posts or try to accommodate them in other departments�. He said the government had already banned recruitment and upgradation of various posts in a bid to cut down on expenditure. �There is also a proposal for the merger of various departments,� he said.

The issue was raised by Manipur People�s Party leader O. Joy Singh and Congress legislator Nimaichand Luwang, both of whom said the state government should pull up its socks before the state reached the point of no return.

Joy Singh warned of a �financial emergency� under Article 360 of the Constitution if the state�s financial condition did not improve. He said Governor Ved Marwah�s directive to the Nipamacha Singh ministry to solve the problem in three months was an indication of what lay in store.

Criticising the chief minister for having a �jumbo-sized ministry�, the MPP leader said it was an �extra burden� on the state exchequer. He said government employees were yet to receive their salaries for February despite assurances from the government that payment of dues would not be delayed beyond the 5th of every month. �Employees of some departments have not received their salaries for the past three months,� he added.    


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